Sunday, December 05, 2004

Marley's Ghost

"Marley's Ghost" by John C. Boland, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Jan/Feb, 2005

A nicely nasty tale of betrayal and revenge. The story, with its roots in events that occurred just after the fall of the Berlin wall, follows a retired spook and a couple of the people he knew when he was stationed as a "cultural attache" in Moscow.

The story is well written and reads smoothly although I have a couple of kvetches. In the fifth paragraph of the story Mr. Boland writes the following: "Oleg squeezed the cup onto its saucer with a rattle." Huh? Come on, I know from experience that sometimes the urge to transcend the mundane is irresistible, but please! What's wrong with "Oleg SET the cup onto its saucer with a rattle"? Clear, concise, and doesn't make the reader roll his eyes and lose his place.

The story transitions from present to past and back again several times. The first of those transitions is handled well, a gentle segue into Gorbachev's Moscow. The next transition from the past back to the present is a five-paragraph irrelevancy that could have been done away with entirely without harming the story one bit. There is another transition later in the story from the present back to the past that is annoyingly abrupt. I will admit, though that this could have been a printer's error, omitting the *** between paragraphs. Another of those occurred near the end of the story.

I enjoyed the story and was surprised by the ending. It is just subtle enough that you might want to pay particular attention to the last sentence to get the full impact.

I like subtle. Why is it that every time I try subtlety in one of my stories my editor slaps me upside the head and says, "This isn't clear enough." Oh, well. Maybe someday.

Nicely done, Mr. Boland.